Sulfate (S and O) isotopes used in conjunction with sulfate concentration provide a tracer for ground water contributions to base flow. They are particularly useful in areas where rock sources of contrasting S isotope character are juxtaposed, where water chemistry or H and O isotopes fail to distinguish water sources, and in arid areas where rain water contributions to base flow are minimal. Sonoita Creek basin in southern Arizona, where evaporite and igneous sources of sulfur are commonly juxtaposed, serves as an example. Base flow in Sonoita Creek is a mixture of three ground water sources: A, basin ground water with sulfate resembling that from Permian evaporite; B, ground water from the Patagonia Mountains; and C, ground water associated with Temporal Gulch. B and C contain sulfate like that of acid rock drainage in the region but differ in sulfate content. Source A contributes 50% to 70%, with the remainder equally divided between B and C during the base flow seasons. The proportion of B generally increases downstream. The proportion of A is greatest under drought conditions.
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Tracing ground water input to base flow using sulfate (S, O) isotopes